Twelve of Europe’s top football clubs launched a breakaway Super League on Sunday, launching what is certain to be a bitter battle for control of the game and its lucrative revenue.
The move sets up a rival to UEFA’s established Champions League competition and was condemned by football authorities and political leaders.
Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus are among the leading members of the new league but UEFA has threatened to ban them from domestic and international competition and vowed to fight the move.
French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson both issued statements condemning a breakaway and supporting UEFA’s position.
As well as United, Premier League clubs Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have signed up to the plans.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain join Real. AC Milan and Inter Milan make up the trio from Italy along with Juventus.
The Super League said that they aimed to have 15 founding members and a 20-team league with five other clubs qualifying each season.
The clubs would share a fund of 3.5 billion euros ($4.19 billion) to spend on infrastructure projects and to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money would not be available to spend on players.
The League said they will make ‘solidarity payments’ to the rest of European football which will exceed those currently offered by UEFA and which “are expected to be in excess of 10 billion euros” over the 23-year commitment period the clubs have entered into.
“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world. Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires,” said Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, the first chairman of the Super League.
No German or French clubs have yet to be associated with the breakaway.
World soccer’s governing body FIFA expressed its “disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures”.
But noticeably there was no mention of a previous threat from FIFA to ban any players taking part in a breakaway from participating in World Cups.
The announcement came just hours before UEFA is due to sign off on its own plans for an expanded and restructured 36-team Champions League on Monday.
UEFA issued a strong statement jointly with English, Spanish and Italian leagues and football federations, saying they were ready to use “all measures” to confront any breakaway and saying any participating clubs would be banned from domestic leagues, such as the Premier League.
“The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams,” UEFA said.
“We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”
The moves were condemned by football authorities across Europe and former players such as Manchester United’s ex-captain Gary Neville who called it “an absolute disgrace” and said the club owners were motivated by “pure greed”.
Reacting to official Arsenal tweet saying: “We are one of 12 founding clubs of the European Super League”, Arsenal Supporters’ Trust wrote on Twitter: “The death of Arsenal as a sporting institution.”
Top French club Paris St Germain have not been reported to have signed up to the plan and President Macron also raised his voice against the breakaway.
“The president of the republic welcomes the position of French clubs to refuse to participate to a European football Super League project that threatens the principle of solidarity and sporting merit,” the French presidency said in a statement sent to Reuters.
“The French state will support all the steps taken by the LFP, FFF, UEFA and FIFA to protect the integrity of federal competitions, whether national or European,” the Elysee added, citing the national, European and globally soccer governing bodies.
UK Prime Minister Johnson also opposed the move.
“Plans for a European Super League would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action,” Johnson tweeted.
“They would strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country. The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps.”
There have been reports of a breakaway for a number of years and they returned in January with several media reported a document had been produced outlining the plans.
In October, then Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said the club had accepted a proposal to join a breakaway league.
Those reports led FIFA and UEFA to warn that they would ban any players involved in a breakaway from playing in the World Cup or European Championship.
UEFA has proposed major changes to its Champions League which had received support from many clubs and organisation.
The changes will see the competition increase to 36 from 32 teams, and an overhaul of the group stage into a single table rather than the current groups of four clubs.
Teams would play 10 matches each in the group stage rather than the six they currently play and a playoff round would also be introduced before the last 16.
But while there has been a broad consensus and those reforms, the big clubs made a late push to have changes to the governance and control of the competition before making Sunday’s dramatic move.
(With input from Reuters)